Genesis 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Here, is -

I. THE FAITIIFULNESS OF JEHOVAH. "As he had spoken. At the set time." "God hath made me to laugh."

II. THE FAITH OF HIS SERVANT, which was evidenced in waiting, hoping, naming the son born unto him, obeying the commandment.

III. THE GIFT of God was THE REVELATION of God: his love, his power, his purpose, his patience.

IV. Taken TYPICALLY, the foreshadowing of the miraculous conception, the kingdom of God, as originating in the sphere of human infirmity and helplessness; as being the introduction of bright hope and cheerful promise into the gloomy barrenness of human life; as the lifting up of man's state into the covenant of God, sealed with his appointed ordinance, surrounded with the promised blessings. Isaac was the type of Christ, Sarah of Mary, Abraham of the people and Church of God.

V. SARAH'S SONG, the first cradle hymn of a mother's thankful joy, representing the Divine delight in the pure and simple happiness of those who are children of God. Abraham rejoiced to see the brightness of the future (John 8:56).

VI. THE WEANING FEAST. All called in to share in the joy. Household joy should be widespread. We may suppose that such a banquet was religious in its character so, not only is it a sanction of religious festivals, but it reminds us that we should connect the events of the family life immediately with the word and ordinances of God. - R.

It was necessary that this should take place for the accomplishment of the Divine plan. Human conduct is employed, as in so many other cases, as the instrument or occasion. There was mockery or unbelief in Ishmael. It was not personal merely, but a mockery of Jehovah and of his Church. Sarah saw it. The mother's keen affections were sharpened to detect the scorn of her joy. Abraham and Sarah were both severely tried. Their lack of faith must yield fruit of sorrow. The separation was pain to the father, but it was part of the gracious work of God for Isaac. Abraham was being prepared by such discipline for his great climax of trial. There is beautiful tenderness and simplicity in Abraham's conduct (Ver. 14). It is -

1. Entire obedience.

2. Kind and gentle consideration for Sarah and Hagar.

3. Strong faith; he committed her to God according to his word.

4. The master and the servant at the door of the house in the early morning; the master himself placing the bottle of water on the bondwoman's shoulder as a sign of continued affinity. God commands separations. In obedience to him they may involve severe struggle with self. Should still be carried out with as little wounding of human affections as possible. - R.

The greatest truths in the Bible put before us in a setting of human interest and feeling. Our hearts strangely touched by the picture of the desolate woman and the helpless child. The fatherly character of God exhibited. He heard the voice of the lad. All such facts point to the greatest fact, the union of God and man in the man Christ Jesus. We see here -

I. GOD'S NOTICE OF AND COMPASSION FOR HUMAN SUFFERING: our example, The object of pity apart from antecedents.

II. THE WORKING OUT OF DIVINE PURPOSES notwithstanding, and to some extent by means of, human infirmities, errors, and sins. Ishmael must be preserved, and has his part to play in the future.

III. Taken TYPICALLY, Hagar and Ishmael represent the life of man apart from the covenant of God, outside the circle of special privilege. There is God in the wilderness. The eyes which are darkened with ignorance and self-will may yet be mercifully opened to see the well of water. The angel of deliverance follows even the bondwoman and her son. But the way to God through the wilderness is a hard way, a way of suffering, a way of danger. God was with Ishmael. He was with him through Abraham, for Abraham's sake. The course of Ishmael's life illustrates the contrast between a truly religious career and one given up to natural impulse. Cf. Esau and Joseph's brethren. - R.

What aileth thee, Hagar? Hagar is sent away from Abraham's tents. In the wilderness wandering she is lost. In despair she sinks down and weeps. An angel's voice is heard inquiring, "What aileth thee, Hagar?"


1. Weary.

2. Thirsty.

3. Apparently man-forsaken and God-forsaken.

4. Their dearest comforts slipping from them, as Hagar's child, by death.

5. Death expecting.


1. Realize it.

2. Seek deliverance from above.

God nearer to us than we imagine. He feels for us, hears us, helps us. He gives sustenance, cheer, guidance. - H.

And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. Hagar in the wilderness. Why? She had no pleasure in her home; would not accept her position there. Hence Ishmael's mocking. Compare working of pride in Eden - "Ye shall be as gods;" and its result - Adam and Eve driven out. Observe - a soul despising the position of a child of God is driven into the wilderness by its own act. Pride rebels against terms of salvation (Romans 10:3)-a free gift to sinners seeking it as such (Mark 2:17). Hagar felt her misery, like many who find no peace. "All is vanity." She sat down and wept. Did she cry to God? He had met her there before. Past mercies should move to trust (Psalm 42:6). But pride and unbelief hinder prayer (Exodus 17:3-6). But God had not forgotten her (cf. Matthew 18:11). "What aileth thee?" Compare our Lord's dealing with those he helped.

1. Himself taking the first step.

2. Requiring a confession of their want.

3. Rousing expectation (John 4:14; John 7:37).

I. THE WELL WAS NEAR HER, BUT SHE SAW IT NOT. So is it with the water of life. Why are so many without peace? The well is beside them; the sound of the gospel is familiar to them. The Bible is read in their hearing, but it speaks nothing to them (2 Corinthians 3:15). Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14). His blood the ransom for all (1 John 1:7). We have not to go to seek a Savior (Romans 10:6-8). No sin too deep for cleansing, no sorrow too great for comfort; nothing required to give a right to trust him (Isaiah 55:1; Luke 15:2). Why without peace? The eyes are closed to the truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). Human teaching cannot give life (Ezekiel 37:8). What is wanted is not a new fountain, but opened eyes. And it is disbelief of this that keeps so many in anxiety. To them the well is not there; they want God to give it. They look for something they are to do to find a Savior. Important to know what is wanted - spiritual discernment. To many this seems a mere fancy; but they whose eyes are opened know it to be a passing from darkness to light (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10). Words often read become full of new meaning.

II. GOD OPENED HER EYES. It is blindness that causes trouble; but as blind cannot see by his own will, so neither can the unspiritual. The way of salvation is before him, but while it commends itself to his reason it brings him no joy. Are we then without effort to sit still? No; all is ready on God's part. "Wilt thou be made whole?" Want of will alone hinders. Often men would like to drink, but not at God's fountain. Make an effort to believe, and power will be given.

III. WHAT SHE SAW. The well of life; the revelation of Jesus Christ to the soul - this is peace. Not our own powers or wisdom, not our own holiness or advance in grace; but trust in him. No more fears. True, the wilderness is there; the work has to be done, temptations overcome, sorrows borne, graces cultivated; but we can do all through Christ. Now troubles become helps (Psalm 84:6), for they make us flee to Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9). And who can count the blessings revealed to him whose eyes are opened? A Father in everything - protection, teaching, guidance. Everything surrounding him, every event that happens to him, are inlets of ever increasing knowledge of God, whom to know is life eternal. - M.

And God was with the lad. The encampment of Abraham was the scene of joy and festivity on the occasion of the recognition of Isaac publicly as his heir. It is said in Jewish lore that Abraham called a number of the patriarchs to the feast, and that Melchizedek, Nahor, and even Noah were present. Ishmael had been heir-presumptive up to that time. He was then put in the position of a subject to the son of Sarah. He and his mother despised the weakling and nursling. They "mocked." This roused the indignation of Sarah, and she insisted on the banishment of both. Abraham was very unwilling to consent to the proposal, for he had great affection for Ishmael. No wonder that he loved him, for he was, if not the child of promise, at least the son who first roused in his breast the pride and joy of paternity. He seems to have hoped that Ishmael would be the one through whom the great blessings promised to him would be bestowed. Hence he had prayed, "O that Ishmael might live before thee" (Genesis 17:18). Perhaps unbelief had much to do with the expression of the hope. He indicated his own contentment with that mode of fulfillment of the premise; God, however, has another. Abraham evidently loved the lad, and now that he is grown to be a stalwart youth of about sixteen, it is strongly against his inclination to send him away. Sarah insists. She in her indignation will not even speak of him by his name, but calls him contemptuously "the son of this bondwoman" (Genesis 21:10). Abraham was very grieved (Ver. 11), but he can see that there is no prospect of any peace in his encampment unless he should do as Sarah wishes. Two jealous women are enough to embitter his life, and bring discord eventually among his retainers For typical reasons the banishment was permitted by God (Ver. 12), and Abraham sends both away, laden probably not only with trinkets, which shall suffice for barter, but with a flask of water and strings of small loaves. Abraham had thus to sacrifice his own inclinations in Ishmael, his son after the flesh, as afterwards his will in offering up Isaac, his child of promise. Away towards Egypt Hagar and Ishmael travel. They enter the wilderness of Beersheba. Happiness and home is behind; desolateness, dreariness, lonely journeyings, imminent dangers from the wild beasts and fierce hordes of men, with Egypt, before them. Hagar, with bread dry and water spent, losing her way, waits for some one to guide. Unable to proceed, she and her son sink down to die, to perish in the scorching heat from that most fearful of all deprivations, water. Hagar, with bitter memories of lost happiness and unjust treatment crowding, cannot bear the sight of her son's woe and sound of his moaning, therefore removes to a slight distance, that she might not see his death nor disturb it as she sought to ease her poor heart with tears. Oh, what moral beauty blossoms in the desert in the maternal love of this outcast bondwoman. No human eye detects it, but God notices and hears her voice, and that of the child. Then comes the direction from heaven, and the promise, "I will make of him a great nation." We are told immediately afterwards in the brief record concerning Ishmael that "God was with the lad," and so the promise was fulfilled. We notice God's care even for an Ishmael, for one who would appear to be outside all covenant blessings. He was one whose "hand was to be against every man, and every man's against him" (Genesis 16:12). God manifested care, however, to this Ishmael -

I. BY PRESERVING HIS LIFE. He heard his cry in distress. He knew his needs. God always knows our needs; whence to supply them, and where to find us even in the wilderness. A well of water is unexpectedly pointed out to the mother. Her eyes were opened to see its whereabouts. So God teaches many a mother, that she may lead her children to the well of living water. Every life preserved is only through the mercy of God. "In his hand our breath is" (Daniel 5:23). There is a well for bondsmen as well as free. God's living well is to be reached in any position of life. It is near to us when we think it far off. "The word is nigh thee, in thine heart," &c. (Romans 10:8). If we are to see the treasure, our spiritual understanding must be quickened, our "eyes opened" by the Holy Spirit. If we desire to know the way and well of life, we can pray for that opening. Only as we have this spiritual sight and life can we rejoice in the present existence, in our preservation. God preserved Ishmael that he might know him.

II. GOD ADVANCED HIM IN LIFE. He was with him as he grew up, and gave him favor in the sight of others. God is ever seeking by his Holy Spirit to mould the character of the worst for good. If we have any prosperity and grow up to influence, we should remember that it is from God. The darkest hour for Ishmael had ushered in the dawning of the brightest day. God knew what he would do with Ishmael. Ishmael is to found a nation. It is remarkable that he was the ancestor of the same number of tribes as was Israel (Genesis 25:16). He found various scattered people in the Arabian desert, but the tribes descended from him seem to have absorbed all others. What an honor to be the founder of a house, a dynasty; how much more of a nation! This God granted to an Ishmael.

III. GOD GAVE HIM SKILL. "He became an archer." He had to learn to defend himself, and secure for himself, by God's help, a position. The fighting power is not the highest, but man has always had to protect himself before he could make progress in civilization. Alas, when he supposes himself to be civilized he often clings to the old habit, and still loves the fighting. The archers, like Ishmael, have their sphere as well as the shepherds, like Isaacs. The fiery defenders of faith and the controversial champions of the truth have their sphere as well as the pious, plodding pastors of Christ's flock. If men have skill for the one thing, let them not despise the powers of others. We have all to learn to appreciate diversity of talents, and to remember that skill in any work is the outcome of independence, resolution, and energy. Ishmael had been endowed with these by God.

IV. GOD FURNISHED ISHMAEL WITH A PLACE OF HABITATION. He gave to him the desert for his domain. Here he might roam and pitch his tent at his own suggestion. God knew that the hot blood of his Egyptian mother, which coursed in his veins, would find its most fitting sphere in the desert. Instead of mingling with gentle herdsmen, he had to dwell among the fierce and untrained spirits of the desert. He became an ancestor of those who despised town life, and who were hardy and frugal enough to exist where others would have perished. Thus to Ishmael, the desert, with its widespread, sun-scorched sands, its scant herbage, its infrequent wells and scattered oases, became a fitting home. God chose for him his dwelling-place, and defined for him the bounds of his habitation. And is it not best for us to leave ourselves in God's hands? He knows best where to place any of us, and what work to give us to do, what sphere to fill. We might prefer the green pasture and hills flowing with milk and honey of the Canaan of prosperity, but the desert of trial and loneliness may be the best for training our spirits. We may have losses to endure outwardly, but if we can acquire a spirit of content and faith, that is great gain. That spirit will lead us to say, "He shall choose our inheritance for us."

V. GOD ALSO INSURED ISHMAEL'S HONOR AMONG HIS BRETHREN. He was to "dwell in the presence of his brethren" (Genesis 16:12). Though cast out by Abraham, he was not cast off by God or cut off from all interchange with others. We find (Genesis 25:6) that Abraham gave portions to the sons of his second wife, Keturah, and sent them away. Doubtless he gave a portion to Ishmael, for we find him uniting with Isaac in the funeral obsequies of his father (Genesis 25:9). The two sons were not at enmity now. Further, he seems to have kept up his union with his brother, for his daughter Bashemath (Genesis 36:3) married Esau, Isaac's son. Thus two families in the line of promise, but who had cast themselves out - Esau by his indifference, and Ishmael by his mocking - were united. Thus, although of fierce and fiery nature, Ishmael "dwelt in the presence of his brethren." God was with him. He had a shorter life than Isaac. Ishmael died at 130 years old, Isaac at 180. Evidently the active, restless, wandering, hazardous life was more wearing and consuming than the calm and meditative life of the pastoral Isaac. But when he died God cared for him as well as for Isaac, only his purposes with respect to Isaac were different. Isaac Was an ancestor after the flesh of the Messiah, but Ishmael had not that honor. Still we must not think that God had cast off Ishmael, and left him utterly and everlastingly to perish. Our God cares for those outside the pale of the Church, even as for those within. The former have not taken up their privileges, nor seen how Christ loves them. They are suffering great loss, and are in danger of further loss, but God cares for and pities them. He wills not the death of a sinner. He pitied the people of Nineveh, sent them a warning, and gave them space for repentance. He healed a Naaman; sent his prophet to dwell with a woman of Sarepta, and so conferred honor upon her; and he brought a Nebuchadnezzar to his right mind by a judicious infliction. All this was mercy shown outside the pale of Israel to those who would be accounted as Ishmaelites. Oh, how much more widely flows the channel of Divine mercy and love than we imagine I How little we conceive the depth of the Father's love to all his creatures I In every heart he is seeking to find a reflection of his image. By the side of every soul, however much of an Ishmaelite, he is seeking by his Holy Spirit to walk, that he may win back to the fold of love and mercy. Oh, ye who think yourselves too sinful to have a share in the Divine compassion, see God's treatment of an Ishmael. Remember that Christ came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." God is merciful even to thoughtless sinners, and gives streams in the desert. If this be the spirit of our God and Savior, should it not teach us to take an interest in all? As the sun when setting in the west throws his golden and purple rays not only over the broad ocean, but on the dank ditches of the meadows and the puddles of the street, so should we remember that there is no heart so depraved but the love of God in Christ may light it up. If only we looked at our fellows thus, with deeper sympathy, we should see them won to Christ. - H.

Abraham a sojourner in that land, afterwards the troubler of Israel; for his sake as discipline, for their sakes as opportunity.

1. God's care for those beyond the covenant. A Beersheba in a heathen land.

2. The things of this world made a channel of higher blessings. The covenant arising out of bodily wants a civil agreement. The oath a testimony to God where reverently made.

3. He is not far from every one of us. The neighborhood of Beersheba, the revelation of Jehovah, the little company of believers.

4. The blessing made manifest. The days spent in Philistia left behind them some enlightenment.

5. Adaptation of Divine truth to those to whom it is sent. Abraham's name of God, Jehovah El Olam; the two revelations, the God of nature and the God of grace. The name of the Lord itself an invitation to believe and live. Paul at Athens adapted himself in preaching to the people's knowledge while leading them to faith. - R.

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